Economic development equals more cancer

Information released by the American Cancer Society (ACS) on the eve of World Cancer Day today (FRIDAY), warns that lifestyle cancers of the lung, breast and colon ‘€“ which are in turn related to economic development – will continue to rise in developing countries if preventative measures are not widely applied.

The findings are contained ACS reports – Global Cancer Facts & Figures and Global Cancer Statistics –  an include a special section on cancer in Africa, where according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) about 681 000 new cancer cases and 512 400 cancer deaths occurred in 2008.

According to estimates from IARC, there were approximately 12.7-million new cancer cases worldwide in 2008, of which 5.6-million of which occurred in economically developed countries and 7.1-million in economically developing countries. There were approximately 7.6-million cancer deaths worldwide in 2008, 2.8 million of which occurred in economically developed countries and 4.8 million in economically developing countries. By 2030, the global cancer burden is expected to nearly double.

‘€œWhile that increase is the result of demographic changes, a growing and aging population, it may be compounded by the adoption of unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, poor diet, and physical inactivity, as developing countries are exposed to and adopt a Western lifestyle,’€ ACS said in a statement.

Dr Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the ACS, said over 2.6-million of the 7.6-million cancer deaths that occurred in 2008, or about 7 300 cancer deaths per day, were potentially avoidable through the prevention of known risk factors, including tobacco use, dietary factors, certain infections, and alcohol use. ‘€œThe worldwide application of existing cancer control knowledge according to the capacity and economic development of countries or regions could lead to the prevention of even more cancer deaths in the next 2 to 3 decades,’€ said Brawley.

The report revealed that despite this growing burden, cancer continued to receive low public health priority in countries in Africa, largely because of limited resources and other pressing public health problems, including communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

Cancers related to infectious agents (cervix, liver, Kaposi sarcoma, urinary bladder) are among the dominant forms of cancer in Africa. In 2008, cervical cancer accounted for 21 percent of the total newly diagnosed cancers in females and liver cancer accounted for 11 percent of the total cancer cases in males.

The majority of cancers in Africa are thought to be diagnosed at advanced stage of the disease largely because of lack of screening and early detection services as well as limited awareness of the early signs and symptoms of cancers among the public and health care providers. Stigma associated with a diagnosis of cancer also plays a role in late stage presentation in most parts of Africa.

Survival after a diagnosis of cancer is much poorer in Africa than in the developed world for most cancer types, especially those cancers affected by screening and treatment. For example, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is less than 50 percent in The Gambia, Uganda, and Algeria, compared to nearly 90 percent in the United States.

While tobacco use is the most preventable cause of cancer death worldwide, accounting for 20 percent of cancer deaths, it accounts for only about 6 percent of cancer deaths in Africa. The smaller contribution of tobacco use to cancer deaths in Africa reflects the early stage of the tobacco epidemic and low smoking prevalence, especially in women. However, cigarette consumption is increasing in many African countries due to the adoption of behaviors associated with economic growth and increased marketing by tobacco companies.

According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, in some African countries, the smoking prevalence among boys is higher than that among adults.

This September, the United Nations will hold a high-level meeting to develop a global response to the growing threat of non-communicable diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. This meeting, supported by the United States government, is only the second meeting the United Nations has held on a global health issue.

The American Cancer Society is a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers with programmes in more than 20 countries, including South Africa and other countries in Africa.


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